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Chris is about to take part in his first soccer championship. Lately, though, he's had swelling, tenderness, and aching pain below his kneecap. He seems to feel better when he takes a break from sports and other physical activities for a few days.

After visiting his doctor, Chris discovered that he has a condition called Osgood-Schlatter disease (OSD), a common cause of knee pain in teens. The condition most often affects guys between 13 and 14 years old and girls between 11 and 12 years old.

What Is Osgood-Schlatter Disease?

In 1903, doctors Robert Osgood and Carl Schlatter first described OSD after recognizing a pattern of symptoms in their patients. The doctors found that OSD was a growth-related problem seen mostly in young, athletic guys. It's most likely to happen during a growth spurt.

Osgood-Schlatter disease is an overuse injury of the knee. Frequent use and physical stress cause inflammation (pain and swelling) at the point where the tendon from the kneecap (called the patella) attaches to the shinbone (tibia).

Because the area is stressed by frequent use, it often leads to inflammation (pain and swelling) or even a tiny fracture of the shin bone. The pain usually worsens with exercise, jumping, and sports such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, figure skating, and gymnastics. In some people, both knees are affected.

osgood-schlatter illustration

The condition affects guys more than girls, especially guys who are active in sports involving deep knee bends, jumping, and running. But OSD affects girls, too, and the number of girls with OSD is increasing since more and more girls are participating in competitive sports.

Signs and Symptoms of OSD

The symptoms of OSD include:

  • pain, swelling, or tenderness below the knee
  • pain that becomes worse during activities such as running and jumping
  • limping after physical activity

With OSD, these symptoms usually go away or feel better when a person rests.

OSD can cause very different symptoms in different people; it all depends on the severity of the condition. Some people may feel mild knee pain only when they play sports. Others may feel constant pain that makes playing any sport difficult.

What Do Doctors Do?

If your doctor thinks you have OSD, he or she will examine the knee carefully and might take an X-ray to help find the cause of pain. In addition to doing a physical examination, the doctor probably will ask about any concerns and symptoms you have, your past health, your family's health, any medications you're taking, any allergies you may have, and other issues. This is called the medical history.

Most people with OSD are able to continue playing sports. If the pain is severe, the doctor might recommend taking a short break or trying activities with less jumping and running for a while. Ask your doctor about stretching and strengthening exercises that may help relieve some of the pain while keeping the area strong. These exercises focus on the quadriceps and hamstring muscles.

More severe cases require more rest (usually a total break from sports and physical activities). Active people may find this very difficult, but the knee can't heal without rest. Some people wind up with a cast or brace to enforce the doctor's orders. Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy for stretching and strengthening exercises.

The good news is that OSD usually will go away on its own after the growth spurt has ended and your bones have stopped growing, usually between 14 and 18 years of age.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: December 2013
Originally reviewed by: Peter G. Gabos, MD

 
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Related Resources:
American College of Sports Medicine
This site has tips on staying safe while playing sports and exercising.
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This organization provides information on physical therapy, from therapists in each state to current research.
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This organization offers a newsletter with helpful safety tips and facts about sports injury prevention.